Yesterday, I visited the homestead of an old family friend with my mother, and this particular friend happens to raise animals. I won’t pretend to understand everything that happens on her homestead, because I identify very firmly and proudly as a city girl who has never once had to kill my own meat, but I do know that she raises these animals, breeds them, and uses them for meat as well.
She took us for a tour of her homestead, and she showed us her pigs, her cows, her cute little bunny rabbits, and after the tour was over, when we were sitting on her porch and I had one of her dogs sleeping on my lap, she told us about the backlash that she and others like her have had to face for raising animals for meat.
She told us about a friend of hers who received death threats from people. She told us that she has been accused of raping her cows to get them pregnant, of being cruel and heartless for murdering innocent creatures.
“Don’t tell me I don’t love my animals,” she said. “I still love my animals, even though I eat some of them.”
This got me thinking about the attitudes that a lot of people have about hunting or farming for meat. A few months ago, I heard from one woman who was a yoga teacher and a vegan that hunting was worse than buying meat from the grocery store, because at least when you were buying meat, you weren’t actually killing an animal.
And here’s the thing – I don’t really know where I lie on this whole vegan-vegetarian-meat eater debate. I don’t eat a whole lot of meat, not by a rule but because I’m not the biggest fan of meat, I’d rather get my protein from other sources. And when I do eat meat, I try to get it from socially-conscious sources, like independent farms, similar to my family friend’s homestead. I believe that human beings are omnivores and that some of us have a harder time living without meat than others, but I also believe that we as a society have progressed enough that we can easily get protein from other sources, like beans. So I don’t disagree with anyone in this argument, I see all sides. But I don’t understand saying that hunting or independent farming is worse than buying meat from the grocery store.
Going back to the ways that we as a society have progressed, we no longer need to be honest with ourselves about where our meat comes from. Meat does not come from animals, it comes from the store. We can go for a jaunty walk to the supermarket, pick up some delicious bacon, and not once think about the pig that had to die to give us that meat. And more than that, we don’t even think about the sort of life that that pig lived. More often than not, meat from the grocery store comes from factory farming, and factory farming is much more focused on getting out as much meat as humanly possible as cheaply as humanly possible than it is on the wellbeing of its animals. Animals in factory farming are kept in tight spaces, crowded out by hundreds of their own kind, many of them rarely even seeing the sun. They are fed growth hormones so that they can be slaughtered as soon as possible, and there is increasing evidence that these growth hormones are harmful to the health of the humans who eat this meat. These animals are born in these farms and they die in these farms, leading a short and miserable life all so that you can have bacon for breakfast.
Now, contrast that to the lives that animals lead when they are raised in independent farms or homesteads like my family friend’s, or killed by hunters. These animals spend their days outdoors, roaming free. They get to run, play, eat as much good food as they want. These animals lead a life and then, yes, they die. And again, they die so that we can have bacon for breakfast, and you can decide for yourself is that sacrifice is worthwhile or not. But if you are going to eat meat, isn’t it better to make sure that you are eating the meat of a creature that actually had a life? And isn’t it better to eat meat knowing where it came from, and what sort of sacrifice went into giving you that meat? Isn’t it better to be aware?
I feel awful for my family friend, receiving threats and insults the way that she has when, really, she is closer to the source of her food than many of us are. She has a relationship with her animals, she loves them and takes care of them – knowing her the way I do, I cannot doubt that. She knows where her meat comes from, and she makes sure that before they die, they lead a fulfilling life full of love and happiness. That is not an evil thing. That is not something that anyone should look down on. Rather, that is something that those of us who choose to eat meat should try to emulate.
And when I say that, I don’t mean that we all need to start our own homesteads or go hunting – personally speaking, I know I wouldn’t have the heart for it. All that I’m saying is that we need to be educated about where our meat comes from, and we need to make sure that when we do eat meat, it comes from socially-conscious sources. Seek out independent farms and buy your meat from there – you can find these farms represented frequently at your local farmer’s market. Not only will you be healthier and supporting your community, you will be much kinder to creatures who depend on our benevolence.